Fire danger will only get worse


 – Katie Zerr, Molly McRoberts –

Area fire departments have been busy this past week as grassfires have blackened thousands of acres in all parts of the region.

Mobridge Fire Chief Brad Milliken said with no rain in the forecast, the continuation of warmer than normal temperatures and the inevitable killing frost on the horizon, conditions would not improve. The latest U.S. Drought Monitor map shows 96 percent of South Dakota is in some form of drought, up more than 4 percent over the week. Nearly 88 percent of North Dakota is in drought, up about 7 percent.

Conditions continue to worsen in South Dakota, where about 45 percent of the state is in extreme drought and another 5 percent is in exceptional drought.

This week the Mobridge firefighters helped with fires West River, near Wakpala and McLaughlin and were on stand-by as other area departments battled a large blaze near the Walworth and Potter County border on Wednesday.

There have also been fires near Pollock, across the North Dakota border.

Milliken said the fires West River scorched more than 2,300 acres near McLaughlin and a small area of grassland near Wakpala.

Continued dry conditions combined with high wind gusts took area firefighters to a prairie fire on the Walworth/Potter county line last week.

The fire, pushed by winds that were gusting to 40 mph burned nearly 500 acres near the junction of South Dakota Highways 20 and 83. The fire was reported around noon on Wednesday, Sept. 19, and burned mostly pastureland in Walworth County before it jumped Highway 20 and moved into Potter County where it was contained.

According to a report from the Walworth County Sheriff’s Office, the fire was started in a ditch around 18 miles northwest of Hoven, and was believed to be caused by a spark from the drive shaft of a truck that broke down. However, that is still under investigation.

The air tanker based in Mobridge assisted as fire departments from Gettysburg, Hoven, Tolstoy, Lebanon, Akaska, Selby, and Lowry battled the fire from the ground. Area farmers brought water to the scene and cut fire lines through fields to stop it from spreading.

There were no reported injuries or structures damaged, and firefighters stayed on the scene for several hours.

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